Hybrid is Here to Stay. Make it Inclusive So Your Employees Stay, Too

By Bonnie Dowling, Associate Partner, McKinsey & Company and Drew Goldstein, Senior Solution Leader and Associate Partner, McKinsey & Company

Over the last two years, many organizations have become more siloed, employee networks have frayed, and cultural ‘ties that bind’ have weakened. Now, many leaders are hoping to return to the office in the same rhythm as before the pandemic, almost as if it didn’t happen.

However, our research shows that most employees prefer hybrid work models after experiencing the benefits — and are willing to quit if they don’t get it. Certain demographic populations, including traditionally underrepresented groups, further prefer hybrid models.

Most employers are experiencing a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation. Leaders think they can just pay more, set up a ping pong table in the break room, and expect workers to be in the office full time…and to be excited about it! Workers do want higher compensation, but they also want what they’ve experienced the last two years: flexibility. Employees who left the workforce and decided to return said that flexibility is by far the number one reason they accepted their current job.

Of employees who worked in a hybrid model over the past two years, four out of five indicated they preferred to keep the hybrid arrangement moving forward.

Our research showed that many people found the hybrid world to be more inclusive in some ways, especially for working parents, military spouses, introverts, and those with mobility challenges. However, hybrid work also has the potential to create an unequal playing field and to amplify in-group versus out-group dynamics, which can flip those advantages to the liabilities side of the ledger.

Remember that flexibility is not just about location. It’s also about when you work and how you work. To retain current employees, who might be becoming more and more burnt out by the day, employers need to consider employees’ full lives, and how the job can accommodate them.

In particular, our research confirmed three inclusion practices that all demographic groups agreed they want organizations to focus on:

1. Work–life support. Nearly 60% of respondents working in hybrid models ranked work–life support in the top inclusion practices they want their organizations to improve — the highest percentage across the 17 inclusion practices we measured. In other words, employees are seeking more acknowledgment of and support for their myriad demands, responsibilities, and interests outside work. This could involve prioritizing policies such as flexible hours and extended parental leave or offering paid time off for newly recognized celebrations such as Juneteenth. Small actions play a meaningful role in how safe employees feel when they exercise these benefits, and one of the most powerful signals comes from managers who role model embracing flexibility, especially in a hybrid model.

2. Team building. To build trust among teams, leaders must embed team-building activities and norms in the organization’s ways of working. Three ways to achieve these goals emerged at the top of the survey responses: encouraging employees to know one another and how they get work done, creating buddy systems, and coaching employees through effective conflict management. Team events where everyone feels welcome can also help build bonds in ways that make employees feel close and valued. A great deal of thought is needed to execute these events well: consider dietary restrictions, comfort with alcohol, event timing, accessibility needs, types of activities, and more. Respondents also highlighted the importance of team building in the integration of new employees in hybrid work environments.

3. Mutual respect. Create norms that encourage employees to view one another as human beings, foster a culture that encourages learning with and from one another, and celebrate and amplify individual contributions. For hybrid work, this is likely to include some experimentation with mixing different types of meetings, when (and when not) to bring employees together on-site, and resetting team norms about when — and how — to check in.

This shift will require your leaders at all levels to listen, coach, and consider flexibility as a continuing conversation. The first step is to ask what employees need as far as flexibility goes. It’s not the same definition for everyone. Some people want to be able to pick up their kids from school, others want to be able to travel for longer than 2 weeks a year, even if it means working during the trip. You might consider establishing a midday shift or providing onsite childcare, for example.

Keep in mind that the plan you set up may change over time. You might ask new employees to be in the office more for the first few months to get to know them and build a relationship. Then they might be able to adjust to just two days a week in the office, determined by the type of work and level of collaboration needed.

With this goal in mind and a willingness to get creative, you can be the winner in the increasingly fierce competition for talent.

Watch our presentation on how to establish inclusive hybrid workplaces in the midst of the Great Attrition at the Culturati Virtual Summit, June 6 & 7, 2022. To find out more and register go here.



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Culturati Team

Culturati Team

Culturati is a community of CEOs, entrepreneurs, investors and other c-suite leaders who practice & study culture building and share our play books.